The German Supply Chain Law: Control of labour standards and environmental protection in Egypt


published on 15 September 2022 | reading time approx. 5 minutes

by Dr. Christian Ule and Carla Everhardt

The human rights standards and the companies’ obligations in a developing country like Egypt can certainly not be compared with those applicable in Germany or other European countries. The practical application of the German supply chain law may therefore require a higher level of risk analysis and risk management.

What are the supply chain risks in Egypt?

As a developing country, Egypt’s population suffers from extreme poverty and unemployment, which leads those who are able to find work to overlook any violations that may befall them in that work. This explains the indifference of employers and even successive governments to the implementation of legal texts.

Although Egypt has a comprehensive legal framework with relevant labor standards, there are still gaps in their practical implementation, and effective monitoring and enforcement measures are lacking. As a result, workers' rights are not always fully secured.

Discrimination against workers

Although all legal texts prohibit and punish discrimination, there is no real will to prevent this disgraceful beha­vior. At the top of the pyramid of these texts is the Egyptian Constitution of 2014.

Article 53 of the Constitution states:
“Citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against based on religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason.

Discrimination and incitement to hate are crimes punishable by law.

The state shall take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination, and the law shall regulate the establishment of an independent commission for this purpose.” In Egypt, particularly in those industries in which most workers are women, such as the textile and clothing industry, a specific religious dress is often prescribed. This is usually the headscarf (hijab), which excludes members of other religions from working. In contrast, in the tourism or sales industry, those who wear such a headscarf are not likely to be hired. The same occurs for jobs that are dominated by men. At best, women are granted access to these jobs if they accept lower pay than their male colleagues. These problems are compounded as soon as a woman is dark-skinned.

Child labor

The Child Law, Law No. 126 of 2008, sets the minimum age for regular employment at 15. The hiring of children below this age limit is only permitted in specific cases such as seasonal employment or apprenticeships. How­ever, domestic work, work in family businesses, and children working in agriculture are excluded from minimum age and other restrictions. In practice, however, the age of a child plays only a minor role anyway.

Breach of occupational health and safety obligations

Accidents affecting workers in the work environment reflect the characteristics of the labor market: neglection of occupational health and safety requirements, high unemployment rates, which are imposed on a big part of the labor force and increase annually, and acceptance of dangerous work that lacks occupational, health and social security.

The harsh working conditions and risks faced by workers in Egypt are illustrated by recent accidents such as the factory fire in Obour City in March 2021, resulting in the death of more than 20 workers.

Some industries in Egypt are particularly vulnerable to negative impacts on human andlabor rights or environmental issues

When it comes to protecting human rights and reducing environmental risks, no type of industry can be exclu­ded. Rather, achieving the desired goal requires that everyone pull together. It is also necessary that laws are not only written on paper, but also enforced by the relevant authorities. Nevertheless, some industries need a special focus. This is the case for industries that cause heavy environmental pollution or who have extreme harsh working conditions.

Is there legislation in Egypt that addresses these risks? How are these laws implemented in practice?

Risks of human andlabour right issues

Even with the absence of a law like its German counterpart, Labor Law No. 12 of 2003 regulates most of wor­kers’ rights, where the employer is an Egyptian person or entity, including both Egyptian and foreign employees. To be mentioned is their right to occupational safety, non-discrimination in any way among them because of gender, race or color and the prohibition of child labor until the age of 15 years. On a wider scale, employment relationships are also governed by the Egyptian Civil Code for matters not regulated by the Labour Law. Furthermore, part of the employment relationship is governed by the Egyptian Social Insurance Law No. 79 of 1975.

Children under age 18 are barred from 44 specific hazardous occupations under the Ministry of Manpower and Migration’s (MOMM) Decree 118, article 1. Decree 118, article 2 prohibits children younger than 16 from working that exposes them to physical, psychological, or sexual exploitation, or to chemical, biological or mechanical dangers.

According to a recent draft law, every employer who employs a child under the age of 15 will have to provide an ID that contains the minor's photo and the type of work they do. The ID must be approved, stamped, and sealed by a competent administrative authority. The draft law also stipulates that the employed child must not work more than six hours a day, stressing that the working hours should include one or more breaks for eating and resting, bearing in mind that the breaks must amount to one hour, in total. Whether this applies to all activities remains to be seen.

Risk of environmental pollution

In the context of environmental protection, the Egyptian legislature has enacted a specific law, namely Law No. 4 of 1994, as amended by Law No. 9 of 2009, which fines most environmental violations, although the range for these is only between EGP 1,000 and EGP 20,000, and thus has little deterrent effect for any larger company.

Implementation in Practice

Experience to date shows that some areas of labor law and related regulations are hardly applied or not applied at all. Violations are often not taken seriously, and workers rarely have the chance to assert their rights with state assistance. The fear of unemployment and branding is too great, and the leverage employers have is too long.

Being right is different from getting right

The Alexandria Shipyard case shows that it is made difficult for Egyptian workers to enforce the rights they are granted on paper. Concretely, a peaceful strike held in 2016 by workers of the Alexandria Shipyard – which has a contract with the French company Naval Group – led to proceedings in front of the Military court. Having asked for minimum wage, safety equipment and bonuses for work during the fasting month Ramadan, 26 workers got arrested on charges of protesting and refusing to work. The labor leaders considered this a "clear and explicit violation of Article 15 of the Egyptian Constitution, and Convention No. 87 of the International Labor Organization, which stipulates the right of workers to strike, and of the Egyptian Labor Law." In general, any protest by Egyptian workers has been nipped in the bud in recent years. This is facilitated by a series of laws aimed at silencing potential opponents. The Egyptian trade union world is characterised by the quasi-monopoly of the ETUF (Egyptian Trade Union Federation), a union directly controlled by the state and founded by Nasser in 1957.

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